A Brief Overview Of Pentecostal Views on Origins
By Mike Tenneson and Steve Badger
The modern Pentecostal movement was born about 40 years after Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species. The earliest Pentecostals largely ignored this controversy over creation and evolution, but during the 1920s this changed, evidenced by the increased number of attacks on evolution in Pentecostal publications, perhaps fueled by the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee. From then until the late 1900s, Pentecostals almost universally rejected all theories of evolution as incompatible with the Genesis creation account. The prevailing viewpoint that creation was relatively recent accompanied this antievolution stance.
Pentecostal Christians today do not share a single viewpoint on evolution. Pentecostals concur that God exists and is the Creator, but they do not speak with one voice on how ancient creation is, how much evolution has occurred, or whether science provides evidence for an intelligent designer.
Historically, because of Pentecostal theology’s fundamentalist roots, Pentecostals have interpreted Genesis as historical narrative that is scientifically accurate, and they reject those scientific findings that contradict this interpretation. But today many people who are technologically savvy and immersed in the popular media’s representation of science are members of our congregations. Many of them are uncomfortable rejecting out-of-hand the findings of science that seem to conflict with traditional interpretations of the Genesis creation account. They are increasingly interested in fostering an integrated view of Christian faith and natural sciences.
As science teachers, we believe pastors need to seek coherence between these two realms and provide ways for their congregations to see truth in both the general revelation (the world) and the special revelation (the Word). Pastors can use the origins debate to help people more thoroughly integrate these two divine revelations.
As educators, we have been investigating the views of Pentecostals on origins for several years. Over the past 5 years we have seen a significant trend toward a decrease in the numbers of recent creation adherents and a simultaneous increase in those favoring an ancient creation (old earth creation, evolutionary creation).1
We can categorize Western beliefs about origins (creation-evolution) into five groups: young earth creationism, old earth creationism, evolutionary creationism, deistic evolution, and atheistic evolution. Within each camp, proponents may disagree on some of the details but agree on most of the major points.
Pentecostals today typically embrace one of the first three views (young earth creation, old earth creation, evolutionary creation). Since atheism and deism are incompatible with Christianity, thinking believers invariably reject deistic and atheistic evolution. Below we outline the salient features of each of these five positions.
1. Young Earth Creation. Also known as Scientific Creation or Creation Science, these creationists believe God created everything in six consecutive 24-hour periods approximately 6,000-10,000 years ago. They reject macroevolution including theories of speciation (one kind of life changing into another kind) and common descent (life forms all share a common ancestor) but they embrace microevolutionary theory (evolutionary changes within a kind). They view the Genesis creation account as historical narrative that is scientifically accurate and claim any other interpretation leads to a slippery slope of eventual denial of the salvation work of Christ. They reject the presupposition of uniformitarianism (natural processes occur in the same way and rate today as in the past) and all scientific findings that do not support a recent creation. Contemporary proponents of this view are Henry Morris (Institute for Creation Research) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis).
Approximately 35 percent of faculty and students at Assemblies of God institutions of higher learning embrace this view.
2. Old Earth Creation. Also known as Progressive Creation, these creationists believe God created the universe and life billions of years ago. They believe the Genesis creation account is mostly historical narrative, but not scientific. They reject speciation and common ancestry, and like young earth creationists, accept microevolutionary theory. They believe God’s multiple creative actions through history gave rise to the various life forms present today. Bernard Ramm advocated this view in the 1950s and Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe) promotes it today.
Approximately 31 percent of students and faculty at Assemblies of God colleges and universities Assemblies of God hold this view.
3. Evolutionary Creation. Also known as Theistic Evolution, these creationists believe God created the universe and life billions of years ago. They embrace both micro- and macroevolution, with the proviso that God guided evolution throughout history. They feel the Genesis creation account is not historical narrative. Instead they see it as God accommodating His revelation to the understandings of the people of that culture. Most evolutionary creation proponents doubt the existence of a literal Adam and Eve but see them as figurative. Francis Collins (Human Genome Project, National Institutes of Health, Biologos) and Denis Lamoureaux (professor of science and religion) promote this position.
About 16 percent of faculty and students at Assemblies of God schools hold this view.
4. Deistic Evolution. These people believe God exists but is not involved in His creation. They think God created the physical realm but left life to evolve on its own. Evolution is not guided and the universe and life are billions of years old. They accept micro- and macroevolution, but reject the Bible as inspired and authoritative. The physical realm is considered to be the best revelation of God. This was the viewpoint of Charles Darwin who, with Alfred Russell Wallace, first posited the theory of natural selection.
5. Atheistic Evolution. Proponents of this view deny God’s existence. Since they think God does not exist, they conclude that life arose naturally from nonlife and evolved into the life forms that exist today. They accept micro- and macroevolution and a universe and life that are billions of years old. They view the Bible as fiction, and since there is no God, He has no role in the physical universe. Modern proponents of atheistic evolution are Carl Sagan (narrator for the famous PBS series “Cosmos”) and Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion).
As we pointed out earlier, Christians universally reject these last two positions on the basis of their understanding of inspiration of Scripture and their approach to biblical interpretation.
Two other ideas deserve our consideration.
During the last century many Christians embraced the Gap Theory. This theory was a response to the evidence that creation took place much more than several thousand years ago. Popularized by the Schofield and Dake Study Bibles, the Gap Theory posited eons between the first verse and the second verse of the first chapter of Genesis. Most Hebrew scholars have failed to find any textual support for this theory, and it has lost most of its supporters.2 People who embrace the Gap Theory believe in an ancient creation and align with the OEC or EC positions.
Intelligent design is another idea that has recently provoked discussion. Proponents of this theory argue that natural processes cannot explain the origin of the many complex and information-rich life structures and processes (for example, DNA and RNA, the bacterial flagellum, blood clotting mechanisms, etc.). Since intelligent design theories find critics in all five origins camps and advocates in each of the three theistic camps (young earth creation, old earth creation, evolutionary creation), it is not a separate origins position, per se.
In conclusion, we find conservative, Bible-believing, Pentecostal Christians (including Assemblies of God adherents) in all three theistic camps (YEC, OEC, EC). With this in mind, we think our attitude needs to reflect the Reformation “Peace Statement” (often erroneously attributed to St. Augustine): “In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
Finally, we have compiled anonymous survey data on Assemblies of God college students and professors, but very little data on Assemblies of God pastors and other church leaders. We invite you to participate in an anonymous online survey to help us learn about the origins perspectives of our church leaders. Would you help us by taking the survey and inviting your ministerial friends to take it as well?
You can take the survey at: http://www.evangel.edu/surveys/origins2/index.asp. (Password: peach. Please enter the word “pastor” or your job title if not a pastor for your ID code.)
Mike Tenneson, Ph. D., professor of biology Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri.
Steve Badger Ph.D., professor of chemistry, Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri.
1. See Michael Tenneson and Steve Badger, “Teaching Origins to Pentecostal Students,” in Amos Yong, ed., The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth: Pentecostal Forays in Science and Theology of Creation (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Press), 2009.
2. Timothy Munyon, “The Creation of the Universe and Humankind” in Stanley M. Horton, ed., Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, Missouri: Logion Press, 1994), 215–253.
Badger, Steve, and Mike Tenneson. 2007. Christian Perspectives on Origins. Revised and expanded edition. Springfield, Missouri: Evangel University. (Available from the authors.)
Moreland, J.P., and John Mark Reynolds, eds. 1999. Three Views on Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Whorton, Mark and Hill Roberts. 2008. Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation. Nashville: Holman Reference.
Young Earth Creation
Moreland, J.P., and John Mark Reynolds, eds. 1999. Three Views on Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, pp. 39–102.
Whitcomb, Jr., John C., and Henry Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Old Earth Creation
Ross, Hugh. 2001. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. 3rd ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Collins, Francis S. 2006. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. New York: Free Press.
Lamoureux, Denis O. 2009. I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock.
Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
_____. 1996. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.